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Does OSA Make You More Vulnerable to Covid?

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As the COVID pandemic continues, we’re finally getting studies about how obstructive sleep apnea (O)SA affects Covid-19.  The short answer is “Very badly.”   A recent study from scientists in Iceland has clarified the link between OSA and severe Covid-19 outcomes.

Until now, it's been hard to be sure how much OSA affects Covid-19 outcomes because so many comorbidities of OSA (old age, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease) lead to severe Covid on their own. Icelandic scientists analyzed the case histories of 6,126 adults who were Covid positive.  185 of them had been diagnosed with OSA as well.

After controlling for comorbidities, OSA patients were twice as likely to have to be hospitalized or to die than patients without Covid. There also seemed to be a greater risk for patients who used a PAP machine compared to those who did not, but the researchers think that the counterintuitive result may be due to the small study size.

I have OSA!  What should I do about the increased risk from Covid-19?

If you have OSA, don’t panic.  Your risk is greater than the general population, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already
  • If you snore but don’t have an OSA diagnosis, get screened and treated
  • If you have Covid-19 symptoms, take a test early so you can access therapeutics
  • If you have OSA and catch Covid, use a pulse-ox to monitor your oxygen levels
  • Remember, this is doubling your previous risk level- if you are young and vaccinated the risk of poor outcomes is still extremely small

In addition, it’s important to know that this increased risk is not just for Covid-19.  Scientists have found poorer outcomes with OSA for RSV and the flu as well.  When you have untreated or under-treated OSA, you’re not getting the rest you need to heal from respiratory infections, and because you struggle to breathe at night, respiratory viruses can be especially deadly.   With OSA, it’s important to monitor your symptoms and to communicate closely with your primary care provider whenever you’re sick.

Would you like to learn more about how OSA affects your whole-body health?  Airway is Life provides a great introduction to the subject and can help you and your family members get treated and be healthier.